Russia Warplane Drops Bombs to Deter U.K. Ship in First Move of Its Kind Since Cold War

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that a Russian warship fired warning shots and then a warplane dropped bombs to drive a British missile destroyer out of waters near Crimea in the Black Sea.

This is the first time since the Cold War that Moscow, which claims the waters belong to Russia, has used live ammunition to deter a NATO warship.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense denied Russia's claims about the incident. The ministry said that the Royal Navy ship was "conducting innocent passage through Ukraine territorial waters in accordance with international law" and that "no shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognize the claim that bombs were dropped in her path."

No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender.

The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law.

— Ministry of Defence Press Office (@DefenceHQPress) June 23, 2021

The destroyer is part of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group heading to the Indo-Pacific region. Earlier this month, it was announced that the vessel would be carrying out its "own set of missions" in the Black Sea separate from the group.

Russia Drop Bomb on UK Ships
The HMS Defender in Portsmouth, England, on March 20, 2020. The Russian military said this week a warship fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs to force the British destroyer from waters near Crimea in the Black Sea. Ben Mitchell/PA via AP

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The Russian Defense Ministry said it has summoned the U.K. military attaché in Moscow to protest the British destroyer's maneuver.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a move that was not recognized by most countries in the world, gaining access to the peninsula's long Black Sea coastline. Russia has frequently chafed at NATO warships visits near Crimea, casting them as destabilizing.

NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria all are on the Black Sea, but warships from the U.S., U.K. and other NATO allies also have made increasingly frequent visits there in a show of support for Ukraine.

Speaking Wednesday just before the incident, General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, sharply criticized the deployments of NATO warships near Russian waters.

"The moves by warships of the U.S. and its allies have been clearly provocative," Gerasimov said at an international security conference in Moscow organized by the Russian Defense Ministry. "It creates preconditions for incidents and doesn't help ease tensions in the military sphere."

He charged that the British destroyer Dragon intruded into the Russian waters near Crimea in October and that the U.S. destroyer John McCain violated the Russian border in the Sea of Japan in November.

In April, Russia imposed restrictions on foreign navy ships' movements near Crimea until November in a move that drew strong complaints from Ukraine and the West. Russia has rejected that criticism and noted that the restrictions wouldn't interfere with commercial shipping.

Earlier this year, Russia also beefed up its troops near the border with Ukraine and warned Ukrainian authorities against using force to reclaim control of the country's east, where a conflict with Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years. Moscow withdrew some of its forces after sweeping maneuvers, but Ukrainian officials say that the bulk of them have remained.